Getting quirky: bizarre festivals in South Africa

Did you know that South Africa is home to some of the world’s strangest and most irreverent festivals? It’s true. Where else would you find a festival dedicated to the odd combination of prawns and horse-racing? Or another where you can take part in a race where the rules are that you must wear shoes but you can’t wear clothes?

Spread throughout the year and the country, if unusual get-togethers are your thing, no matter when you visit, you’ll have an absolute ball in versatile South Africa!

Here are some of our favourite festival picks.

Cape Town Prawn Festival

This is the one with the horse-racing. Taking place at the Kenilworth Racecourse in February, you can mix sea and land by tucking into a bucket of prawns while watching the gee-gees gallop down the green. You can also watch the Cape Carnival minstrels perform (which is great if you missed seeing them on New Year’s Day). This is a is very popular festival, and best of all? Entry is free!

Enjoy a plate of peri-peri or lemon butter and garlic butter prawns while you watch the horses thunder past at the Cape Town Prawn Festival.

Enjoy a plate of peri-peri or lemon butter and garlic butter prawns while you watch the horses thunder past at the Cape Town Prawn Festival. Photo credit: www.food-blog.co.za

A couple of other foodie festivals to take note of are the Calvinia Meat Festival and the Ficksburg Cherry Festival. While they might sound quite mainstream and tame, they both have elements that are beyond the norm.

The Calvinia Meat Festival

A visit to the Calvinia Meat Festival (also known as the Hantam Vleisfees) in the Upper Karoo will challenge your tastebuds as well as your sense of adventure. Now in its 25th year, it’s a proud celebration of its local lamb. You can’t go and not try a “smiley” (a roasted sheep’s head, so called because, during the cooking process the lips of the sheep retract to reveal its teeth in a somewhat gruesome smile), skaapstertjies (docked lamb’s tails), kailings (crispy crumbs of fat) and peertjies (testicles). We did warn you it’d be different.

The Calvinia Meat Festival offers a smorgasbord of dishes to whet any carnivore's appetite. Photo credit: www.tasteandliving.com

The Calvinia Meat Festival offers a smorgasbord of dishes to whet any carnivore’s appetite. Photo credit: www.tasteandliving.com

The Ficksburg Cherry Festival
Known as the Cherry Capital of the World (and the sole producer of South Africa’s glacé cherries), this Free State festival has been around since 1968. It’s the oldest crop festival in South Africa and is one of the country’s major tourist attractions. One of the things that makes it stand out so much (other than the magnificent fruit), is the cherry pip spitting contest. You’ll have to try it. It’s a fun activity that the whole family can get involved in although it can get quite competitive.

Try your hand at cherry pip spitting at the Ficksburg Cherry Festival. Photo credit: http://2summers.net

Try your hand at cherry pip spitting at the Ficksburg Cherry Festival. Photo credit: http://2summers.net

If challenging your body strength sounds tempting, you should check out the following festival for sure.

The Lumberjack Festival

Aptly named The Lumber Games, the Lumberjack Festival gives wannabe axe-swingers the opportunity to flex their muscles and maybe even rip through their plaid shirts in the process! It’s not all about chopping trees down though, axe throwing and log hurling are popular competition sports and visitors can also take part in a session on olive tree planting. And if you’re worried about the environmental impact of these manly lumberjack activities, rest assured all’s okay as the wood that’s used is from invasive alien species that are cleared as part of land regeneration programs.

Flex your axe-wielding muscles at the Lumberjack Festival in Stellenbosch. Photo credit: www.travel.nationalgeographic.com

Flex your axe-wielding muscles at the Lumberjack Festival in Stellenbosch. Photo credit: www.travel.nationalgeographic.com

One of the quirkiest of South African festivals in a creative sense has to be Afrika Burn which is based on the US phenomenon, Burning Man. It attracts thousands of participants who take months planning their outrageous costumes (worn as a form of radical self-expression), and wander the desert landscape of the Tankwa Karoo marvelling at awesome mass-scale, purpose-built artistic installations. For seasoned Burners, the idea of Burning Man in South Africa is pretty radical in itself!

Express yourself at Afrika Burn, South Africa's version of 'Burning Man'. Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk

Express yourself at Afrika Burn, South Africa’s version of ‘Burning Man’. Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk

Another is Oppikoppi.

Not your average music festival by any stretch of the imagination, Oppikoppi is the festival with the nudie run we mentioned earlier. Yes, it might be reminiscent of Glastonbury, and attracts over 20,000 happy campers to the bush to listen to lots of phenomenal South African bands jam in the sticks, but it also prides itself on a range of strange things. In addition to the naked shenanigans, events like the Box Car Races, Running of the Bewilderbeats (the opposite of the naked dash as you have to wear a costume), and the Wil(d)abong Surf Classic where teams pull a member across the dust on a surf board, form part of the lovingly known ‘Dustbowl Olympics’. Reckon it’s worth losing yourself in the moment at this one!

Oppikoppi (meaning 'on the hill') is a wonderful mix of music and shenanigans. Photo credit: www.fest300.com

Oppikoppi (meaning ‘on the hill’) is a wonderful mix of music and shenanigans. Photo credit: www.fest300.com

There are so many other fantastic (and fantastical) South African festivals you could visit. If you like quaint for example, take a look at the Teddy Bear Fair in May in Constantia. Whatever your taste in zany festivals, book your perfect South African holiday today. For more travel inspiration and the latest news and planning tools, join the conversation on our Australian or New Zealand Facebook page.

 

Festival information:

Cape Town Prawn Festival

When: 21 February, 2015
Where: Kenilworth, Cape Town
How to get there: You can fly directly to Cape Town International Airport from most major airports around the world. The city is also linked by rail and air to the rest of South Africa. Public transport in Cape Town is excellent, but hiring your own vehicle allows you to explore at your own pace.
Where to stay: www.capestay.co.za
More information:

Western Cape Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 21 405 4500
Fax: +27 (0) 21 405 4524
Email: info@tourismcapetown.co.za

The Calvinia Meat Festival

When: 29-30 August, 2015
Where: Calvinia, Upper Karoo
How to get there: If flying, your best option is Kimberley which has direct air links to Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Where to stay: www.calvinia.co.za
More information:

Northern Cape Tourism
Tel +27 (0) 53 832 2657
E-mail: northerncapetourism@telkomsa.net
Web: www.northerncape.org.za

The Ficksberg Cherry Festival

When: 20-22 November, 2015
Where: Ficksburg, Free State
How to get there: Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Bloemfontein Airport. If you’re driving; from Johannesburg and Cape Town take the N1 south and north respectively to Bloemfontein. From Durban, take the N3 out of KwaZulu Natal, and pick up the N5 at Harrismith to Bloemfontein. In order to cover the large stretches of territory required, getting around by car is recommended.
Where to stay: www.wheretostay.co.za/province/free-state/accommodation
More information:

Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 51 411 4300
Email: info@freestatetourism.org
Web: www.freestatetourism.org

The Lumberjack Festival

When: 14-15 April, 2015
Where: Stellenbosch, Cape Town
How to get there: You can fly directly to Cape Town International Airport from most major airports around the world. The city is also linked by rail and air to the rest of South Africa. From Cape Town, hire a car and travel on the N1 via the R304, R44 or R300 and M12, or the N2 via the R44 or R310.
Where to stay: www.stellenbosch.travel/stay-us
More information:

Western Cape Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 21 405 4500
Fax: +27 (0) 21 405 4524
Email: info@tourismcapetown.co.za

Afrika Burn

When: 23 April-3 May, 2015
Where: Karoo, Northern Cape
How to get there: Afrika Burn takes place on Stonehenge Farm approximately 300km north of Cape Town, in the Tankwa Karoo. You can fly directly to Cape Town International Airport from most major airports around the world. The city is also linked by rail and air to the rest of South Africa. From Cape Town, hire a car and travel on the R355, which connects the towns Ceres in the south and Calvinia in the north.
Where to stay: You will be camping onsite at Afrika Burn
More information: www.afrikaburn.com

Oppikoppi

When: 7-9 August, 2015
Where: Gauteng, Limpopo
How to get there: Oppikoppi is held in the veld just north of the small town of Northam in the Waterberg District Municipality in the Limpopo province of South Africa, approximately 50 km south of Thabazimbi.. Fly direct from Johannesburg to Polokwane. If you’re driving, from Johannesburg take the N1 north motorway direct to Polokwane. By road, take the N1 motorway from Johannesburg and continue north to Polokwane. From Durban, either take the N3 motorway to Johannesburg and then pick up the N1 north to Polokwane, or take the N3 to Ladysmith and then pick up the N11 to Polokwane.
Where to stay: You will be camping onsite at Oppikoppi
More information: www.oppikoppi.co.za